CSO Petriverse

In Fall 2019 Pierre Jardin was a Visiting Scholar at CU Boulder’s Center for the Study of Origins. Using materials collected from nearby Boulder Creek, he created this table-top garden for the Center’s beautiful space, which looks out on the Flat Irons and Front Range of the Rockies. The didactic for the garden is below.

overviewThis tribute to the CSO invites the viewer to project themselves into a ‘Petriverse,’ where they can trace itineraries along aligned stones and among rock formations and stands of thistle trees. The mind molds calmly onto a world of curvilinear forms, moving around a lithic landscape tumbled smooth by countless years in flowing water. All materials were collected during stonefishing stops along Boulder Creek on the artist’s velocipedic commute to the SEEC building.

This imaginary landscape opens up different dimensions as it is seen from different disciplinary perspectives. Archaeologists might envision it as a Megalithic Monument of the late Geolithic, whose stacked stone orbs were meant to attract and welcome cosmic deities to Earth.

close thistlesGeologists, cognizant of Colorado petrology, will see “the long and the short of it”: bluish-whitish gnarled gneiss and speckled granites from Precambrian times, at the very origins of the state’s formation; smooth porphyry that is progeny of the Laramide orogeny that uplifted the Rockies ca. 50 million years ago.

close stonesHumanists might discern a petric poetics at play, where the intrusion of language in the landscape is smoothed over by signifiers being configured in archetypal forms (circle, half-circle, snake).

The CSO Petriverse is dedicated to the Fall 2019 Community of Scholarly Outsiders (CSO), visiting scholars David Ilan and Zee Perry, graduate students Kelly Carscadden, Kaitlyn Davis, Devin Pettigrew, and Sierra Standish, and program manager Ali Laird.

Practicing Prescients on the Sandbeach Lake Trail

IMG_0426Thanks to his friends Kieran (aka The Tallest Man in Paris) and Paul (aka The Silver Swedish Fox), Pierre Jardin had the great good fortune to hike the Sandbeach Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a stunning day: the fall aspens were at their peak, and Mt. Meeker rose majestically above the lake.

Out-and-back hikes offer Pierre Jardin the opportunity to  practice a particular type of site-specific stone work he calls Prescients. On the hike out, as part of becoming immersed in the surroundings, Jardin watches for niches where a rock might be pleasingly placed, and then searches for potentially suitable stones. The niches are marked by a discreet sign (stick, rock) on the trail, and the selected stones are placed where they will be spotted. On the hike back, the stones are retrieved and lugged to the site. If fitting the stone in the niche results in a work worth documenting, it is called a Prescient, because the simple display is the culmination of careful observation, which in hindsight looks a lot like foresight.

IMG_0445On the way out, Pierre Jardin spotted a broken off tree trunk that seemed like a promising base on which a stone might be placed. The image of the trunk’s grey wood grain and the hollow on its top became a sort of screen through which Jardin scanned the ground for stones; in the mind’s eye, he picked up rocks and imagined how they would look perched on the wood. He was grateful to have help carrying the two substantial stones that passed this screening.

It was a fine day indeed, because the result was three displays deemed worthy of being dubbed Prescients. Each stone showed so well in the niche, that they were elevated to their own solo exhibitions, before the pair collaborated in a group show. 


IMG_0450IMG_0451IMG_0452While Jardin usually names his work, here he chooses not to, because the aim is to be as organic to place as possible–Prescients are produced off the path, not made to be admired or seen like a cairn, and designed to disperse soon after being deserted. Prescients allow Pierre Jardin to shift stones and create something in situ, without marking the landscape. While they technically violate the purist/purest principles of Leave No Trace, they adhere to an ethics of not altering the natural context.

A Basalt on the Senses

5hMYesk7SIKBhxehxxI3UQ_thumb_1405eThis lava landscape formed in The Petriverse after Pierre Jardin was knocked for a loop by the stone formations he saw when geotouring through Utah this summer. A volcano spewing lava into a dry gravel stream with basalt formations along it expresses Jardin’s feeling that these sublime lithic landscapes, overwhelming in scale, age, and telluric force, comprised an assault on the senses.

cG7GxrQ3QUGLQN6TVngfSA_thumb_13c37The rocks were collected on a morning hike in St. George, famous for the inverted topography of its basalt ridges. The basalt ridges that are now visible at the tops of hillsides in St. George originated as lava flows in streambeds. In the millions of years since these eruptions, the soft sandstone has eroded away, leaving exposed the basalt streams as ridges, now at the highest part of the remaining landscape.


Iteration of an Installation by Seismic Vibration

Pierre Jardin’s most recent publicly displayed stone stack stood amid library stacks in the groundfloor landing at Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University. Installed for a conference on June 20, the work was modified by an earthquake on July 5. Photos and didactics for the two iterations follow below.

Gravity of Situation

The Gravity of the Situation

Lava rock, Palos Verdes shale, gravel

Installation by Pierre Jardin

The title evokes an Anthropocene sense of urgency, coupled with geologic volatility and fragility in a period of climate change, mass extinctions, and environmental degradation. Time’s arrow itself seems to be hanging in the balance, as these processes affect human and inhuman cycles, rhythms, and temporalities. The free-standing stone sculpture stages a contrast between ephemerality, embodied in the precarious balance of stones, and the deep time of rocks. Stone stacks, like mortal human life, persist in a temporality that could be thought of as a suspended sentence: stacks are doomed to fall at an uncertain time, just as we know we are sentenced to die but usually do not know when or how. Balancing stones demands a meditative suspension of attention, which opens an aporia where the ephemerality of precarious cairns commingles with the aeonic calm of absorbing rocks.

Fallen stack


Lava rock, Palos Verdes shale, gravel

Installation by Ridgecrest Earthquake & Pierre Jardin

The title evokes an Anthropocene sense of submission, coupled with geologic volatility and fragility in a period of climate change, mass extinctions, and environmental degradation. The balanced stack has been leveled by tectonic waves; sculptures of sufficiently delicately poised sensibilities are especially susceptible to them. In fact, nothing else in the library fell during the July 5 7.1 earthquake, whose epicenter was 150 miles from L.A. The rocks fell as Pierre Jardin designed them to in case of perturbances—away from the floor and visitors. The vertical spine stone toppled into a horizontal bridge, spanning what becomes a de facto waterway or moat, linking the shorestone island to a rugged basalt coastline. Yet this formal fit of fallen stones bespeaks a restful harmony belied by the telluric shearing that shook them down. Aeonic calm suffers instantaneous obliteration when geologic time erupts abruptly into human history. Jardin feels humbled, taken down a notch from aspiring to commingle with rocks, and humbled to have gotten to collaborate (through passive reverberation) with the earth on a public piece.

Listening to Stone

Listening to Stone Arches

Cavities in bones

The earth groans in lithic tones

Listening to stone

This composition pairs a photo taken under North Window Arch at Arches National Park with a contemporary haiku. It expresses an Anthropocene attention to the earth, one attended by tension arising from a sense of fragility, vulnerability, and collapse. Standing Rocksfalls closeupbelow a large boulder barely clasped in an exposed groove in the arch overhead, the hearer’s ear anxiously listens for any sound from above, having been alerted by signs in the park.


Arches boulder above peopleThere is a suspense, a dread, in anticipating the moment when changes along the deep timescale of arch formation from erosion will reach a tipping point, and the effects of wind, water, and gravity will free the rock from the arch. One regards unsuspecting visitors below the rock as unwittingly playing a game of Russian Roulette.

While geologic deep time is often seen as antipodal to mortal life, the haiku expresses an intersection of earth and human timescales. Both bodies are fragile: the first line echoes the Chinese Taoist view that “stones are the bones of the earth,” and here a cavity within an arch, itself a cavity worn away by erosion, exposes the perishability of rock. The line also evokes the delicacy of ossicles in the ear’s tympanic cavity. The rhymed lines mark a break from traditional Japanese haiku, which is grounded in a harmony between humans and nature. Similarly, the conventional reference to a seasonal time in classic haiku is replaced by a moment in Anthropocene time, an imminent occasion when geologic volatility would crash into a human present, with crushing consequences.

Lose the Technology, Gain the Geology!

In a desperate attempt to defeat the despair he feels when pedestrians pass by so preoccupied with their phones that they fail to notice his stones, Pierre Jardin posted this petriverse prompt as a provocation–and perhaps a plea.phone drone stone zone

The worst offenders are parents glued to their screens and/or talking loudly, while their neglected progeny (on foot or in strollers) point to rocks or strain to look back at a garden display.

At what point will we look back on the era that we became addicted to our phones as an aberration, a temporary madness that we let seize us?

Pierre Jardin expresses gratitude to fellow punster and petromaniac Jack Levy for the petrified wood pieces that compose the first and third lines of the message.